By Christopher Smith
Steve Bartoo, associate principal of Dalton High School, can drop the first half of the title this summer.
Dalton Board of Education members voted unanimously at Monday night’s board meeting to name Bartoo principal of Dalton High, effective July 1. Several Dalton High students, teachers and coaches applauded Bartoo after the announcement.
“You’ve got big shoes to fill,” board Chairman Danny Crutchfield told Bartoo at the meeting. “But I know they (students) are in capable hands.”
The move was unexpected, at least to the public. The agenda for the meeting did not mention approval of the principal position, and even though The Daily Citizen was told it would be “kept in the loop” by a school system spokeswoman in January as the search for a successor to Principal Debbie Freeman progressed — including when teams would be formed to interview candidates — no notice was given prior to Monday.
The replacement search began in January when school officials posted the job opening. Two sets of interviews were held in late February by a hiring committee and Superintendent Jim Hawkins, according to a timeline provided to the media Monday night. Asked Monday night who the members of the committee were, spokeswoman Pat Holloway said she did not know. School board Vice Chairman Mark Orr said no members of the school board participated on the committee, but he did say board members received a timeline for selection in January.
Bartoo beat out “top candidates” Jennifer Phinney, principal of Morris Innovative High School, and Bruce Potts, principal of Sonoraville High School in Calhoun, said Holloway and Craig Harper, chief administrative officer for the school system.
Asked why Bartoo was selected for recommendation by Hawkins, Holloway and Harper said they couldn’t go into detail because the decision was made in executive session, which is closed to the media and public. Hawkins did not immediately return voicemail messages left for him Monday night.
Freeman is retiring because of “family obligations.”
“I’m excited about the choice the district has made,” she said. “Steve will continue the tradition of excellence that is the standard at Dalton High.”
“We had an (executive session) meeting back in January when we got the timeline (for selection),” Orr said. “It’s a regular hire. We approve all personnel in a vote, but we do not do the interviews. We did not talk to any individuals. We (school board members) do not make those decisions (hiring) ... except for the superintendent.
“Nobody on this board was involved in the hiring committee. It was just like any other position — like a first-year teacher. We get the recommendations to approve ... we only have veto power.”
Board member Steve Williams said Bartoo’s approval was “ordinary business.”
“I don’t know what (the media) was told, it just came up in the ordinary course of business as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “I wouldn’t view it as a closed door thing. It comes up as any other principalship comes up. You post the job and advertise, review candidates and make a choice ... I don’t think anyone is trying to exclude or include the public one way or another.
“(Dalton High) is certainly the most visible school. It’s the flagship of the system. But again, ... it’s like any other principalship that comes up ... Should we handle this one differently than the other ones? I’m not sure. Well, no more or no less than hiring anybody else ... a principal of elementary school or a vice principal of a middle school or a department head — you know, I don’t think it needs to be handled in any different way.”
Bartoo thanked Hawkins and the school board members for the opportunity.
“I have great respect for the past accomplishments of our students and faculty,” he said, “as well as great appreciation for the things we are doing that make Dalton High School such a great school.”
Bartoo holds a bachelor of science and a master of science, both in special education from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He also has a specialist’s degree in educational leadership from Berry College. He has been associate principal for three years and has worked at Dalton High School since 1991, starting as a special education teacher.
“Bartoo has been instrumental in administering the day-to-day operations of (Dalton High) while also supporting and providing leadership with Mrs. Freeman,” a press release given out by school officials read.
Board member Richard Fromm agreed.
“Mr. Bartoo has been with the school system for a very long time,” he said. “He has shown a passion for education.”
Bartoo said he is “(looking) forward to serving our students, faculty and community in my new role.”